Interview with Derek “Kael” Paxton from Stardock


posted 11/1/2010 by Charles Husemann
other articles by Charles Husemann
One Page Platforms: PC
What are your first priorities when you start? What are some of the things you want to do long term?
My first step is to understand all the design decisions that have already happened. I've started getting feedback from the player community, next will be to interview the members of the Stardock team. Though I have a lot of ideas for the game I'm not a fan of suggesting changes unless you truly understand the system, so I need to listen before I speak.

But my initial focus is on improving the games pace and making the first 30 minutes more fun, because if players don't enjoy that then there is little chance they will check out the rest of the game.

Longer term goals will have to wait for later announcements.

Describe your approach to project management? Are you more waterfall, iterative, or agile? In your opinion, what’s the biggest improvement in software development in the last five years?
I don't think any of the methods work for video game design in a pure state. I lean more toward iterative design in that I want a significant portion of the design timeline to be spent iterating on the design rather than simply creating the design. If it would take 12 months to implement the mechanics we should tack on an additional 6 months just to iterate on that design. It's that time that has the biggest influence on game quality.

My approach to project management is communication heavy. Provide a consistent vision for the team, provide a list of tasks toward reaching that goal and remain loose enough to adjust those tasks when new ideas or concerns come in. Every team member should understand exactly what they need to do, have the tools to do it, and be motivated by being able to see how it fits into the larger picture. Although I encourage a lot of feedback and ideas, I'm also very hesitant to add good ideas, they have to be great (scope creep being a huge risk in game design). Instead I want more elegant ideas, I'm more interested tightening a design than adding to it.

I think collaboration tools have had the biggest impact on software development in the past five years. Stardock uses IM, chat and screen sharing software to quickly and easily share information and ideas. Even coworkers that are an office away use these tools to collaborate rather than walk to each other's desks. Artists from Germany are as accessible as an artist that shares your office. And this includes the power of forums for getting feedback, providing screenshots and error messages.

This isn't new to the past five years. But the adoption and acceptance as a standard part of business culture has grown in the past five years and influenced every part of software development.

What are the odds that we’ll see a new Fall from Heaven game from Stardock at some point in the future?
I would love to see a Stardock produced Fall from Heaven game. But for now my focus is on making Elemental great.

I'd like to thank Derek for taking the time to answer our question as well as Stephanie for coordinating the interview.

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